Kobe is the fifth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, approximately 30 km (19 mi) west of Osaka. Kobe did not exist in its current form until its founding in 1889. Its name comes from "kanbe" an archaic title for supporters of the city's Ikuta Shrine. Hyōgo-ku or Ōwada Anchorage or Hyōgo Port is an area is the historical heart of the city. Shinkaichi in Hyogo-ku was once the commercial centre of Kobe, but was heavily damaged during World War II, and since Hyogo-ku has lost much of its former prominence.
Kobe Port was first opened to foreign trade in 1868. At that time it had no wharfs to serve large vessels so loading and offloading had to take place offshore. This situation persisted for a long time.
Lowry visited the port between 28th June and 1st July 1927 on his voyage to the Far East. He had obscure reference to the port in the 1927 poem 'The Glory of the Sea':
'Where's Chang tonight? he asked the Third;
'It's past the time he came off watch:
Half-hour ago eight bells I heard;
I've got a cake of Kobe trout,
Tinned, by crimes! I bed your Scotch-'
'Chang? Chang's dead: his heart came out.'
|1914 Map of Kobe: 1. Sannomiya Station (currently Motomachi Station); 2. Motomachidori; 3. Sakaemachidori; 4. Higashi Yuenchi Park; 5. Oriental Hotel; 6. Kaigandori; 7. Customs House; 8. American Hatoba.|
Lowry also refers to the old port of Kobe during Dana'a drift around the red light district of Dairen in his novel Ultramarine - while Dana is waiting for a film to start adverts appear on the screen; "The American Hatoba, the Oriental Hotel, and the Kyo-Bashi...Oh these infernal advertisments on the screen!" ( Pg.98). It is not impossible that adverts for the Japanese mainland may have been advertised in Japanese occupied Manchuria. Or it might be Lowry simply transposing Kobe into Dairen.
It is possible that Lowry experienced the incident with the Japanese prostitute in Kobe as described by Joseph Ward in a letter to the Liverpool Daily Post dated 14/4/1962. Ward says:
....he seemed a lost soul and his reproductive organ was certainly in the back row, it was a teeny-weeny object that disgusted a Japanese geisha girl to such an extent as to frustrate her into impolite abuse.
Stan Hugill describes Kobe in Sailortown as follows:
With some seamen Kobe was Number One, and although, perhaps, it did not have the variety of sailor entertainment offered in Yokohama, still had plenty of girls and bordels. Perhaps the reason why some seamen preferred Kobe to Yokohama was the fact that most girls here wore Western dress.
The main street, the Motomachi, was lined on both sides with small and large bars, cafes and dancehalls, the numbers of "garus" or girls found in them being legion. Down the alleyways, too, more dives were to be found, and as well as dives, Kobe was famous for its so-called Sex Stores.....
The bars and dives best known to seamen were the Honey Drop, Union Bar, Kimi Bar, Golden Bat, the Frisco, Fuji Bar, Hana Bar, Havana Bar, Academy Bar, Rose Bar, Young Bar, Yokohamate, and Boston Bar.
The native kuruwa, called Fukuwara or"Lucky Moor", was to be found in Hyogo the older port adjacent to Kobe - near to Theatre Street of Shinkaiichi. It was a replica of the one in Yokohama, but a bit livelier perhaps, since it was situated in a busy market and theatre district. The biggest houses were the Fukanariro and the Daikichiro. In these more modern times, however, what with the competition of the Western-dressed dance hostesses and the more Western-styled bars, these old fashioned native brothel areas were not patronised as much by seamen as they were olden times.
Even if one wanted to go to such a place and said tho the Japanese taxi-driver, "Yoshiwara", it was usual for the driver, who had probably driven hundreds of sailors to bars and brothels, and who believed than that the latter did himself, to take his customer to a Western-styled dive. The girls in this district charged 2.5 yen a "short time", 5 yen an hour, and 8 yen "all night", the yen at this time being worth 1s. 2d." (Pgs. 334-335).